The first The X-Files licensed novel, Goblins, was a massive disappointment. However, that doesn’t mean that adapting Mulder and Scully to print was an inherently bad idea. Let’s skip ahead in the series to #4 and open up a much better X-File: Ruins, by Kevin J. Anderson.
When a well-connected American archaeologist, Cassandra Rubicon, disappears while exploring the lost Mayan city of Xitaclan, the incident becomes a case for FBI agents Mulder and Scully. They are investigators assigned to the X-Files, the strange and inexplicable cases the FBI wants to keep hidden – cases involving the paranormal, the supernatural, and possibly, the extraterrestrial.
Mulder thinks there may be more to this case than simply a missing team of scientists – namely ancient curses, blood sacrifices, and deadly reptilian monsters lost in the jungles since before history.
Scully is, as always, more skeptical and likely to provide the logical explanations for her partner’s unorthodox speculations. Meanwhile, a covert U.S. military commando team has been sent to investigate, and destroy, a strange electronic signal received from beneath the ruins – a signal aimed upwards, at the stars…
Unfortunately, like Goblins, there is simply no way for Ruins to evade the inherent X-Files problem: the preordained conclusion. When the book begins with an alien spaceship being discovered in a Mayan temple, you immediately know that the book’s finale will involve the spaceship either being destroyed or else departing the planet – Mulder isn’t going to actually end up obtaining proof of the alien or supernatural or government conspiracy, any more than Charlie Brown is ever going to actually kick that football. Still, this book puts a lot of effort into at least making the ride to the inevitable conclusion an enjoyable one.
One of the problems with Goblins is that it was just too mundane; hardly even worthy of being called an X-File. A human serial killer who murders people at night using a knife? Not exactly ground-breaking material. Ruins, by contrast, goes all-out in providing a supernatural spectacle: though the villains are still human, they act against a backdrop of ancient alien spaceships and unearthly feathered serpents. The murder mystery might be simplistic, given the lack of possible suspects (though at least they are established as suspects, instead of the out-of-nowhere reveal in Goblins), but it is balanced by action and suspense scenes. With Cassandra stumbling into a suspended animation chamber and a drug lord’s mansion getting blown up by an unwisely selected relic, it’s actually possible to get interested in seeing what bizarre alien esoterica Mulder and Scully encounter next.
The novel also does well to include Scully’s final case report, where she attempts to scientifically explain the phenomena she encountered during the investigation. I know it seems laughable to try and look for a solely scientific explanation in a universe where the paranormal is indisputably very much real, but that’s Scully’s character: she’s the skeptic to Mulder’s believer. It’s part of what makes it feel like The X-Files rather than a random story featuring two people who coincidentally happen to also be named Mulder and Scully.
And when you think about it, doesn’t Scully’s explanation actually make more sense than the “real” one? The feathered serpents are supposedly alien in origin; but given their morphological similarities to snakes and birds – creatures which are the products of evolution on Earth – wouldn’t it make much more sense that they also evolved on Earth rather than coming from a completely different world and just coincidentally happening to strong resemble existing Earth species? Just saying.
All stars are not equal: the biggest difference in my rating system is the difference between two stars and three. While four and five pretty much both just mean “great”, the gap between two and three is a critical threshold. A two-star rating means you should probably go ahead and skip a book, whereas a three-star rating means you might well want to check it out if it sounds like the kind of thing that interests you. Goblins falls on the wrong side of that divide; Ruins falls on the right one.
Final Rating: 3/5